Greene, Sarah (Pratt) McLean
GREENE, Sarah (Pratt) McLean
Born 3 July 1856, Simsbury, Connecticut; died 28 December 1935, Lexington, Massachusetts
Daughter of Dudley B. and Mary Payne McLean; married Franklin L. Greene, 1887 (died 1890)
The second youngest of five children, Sarah McLean Green grew up on a Connecticut farm. Taught by her mother and in local schools, she attended Mt. Holyoke College for two years and then accepted a teaching appointment at Cedarville, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod. Intrigued by the eccentricity of Cape Cod life, she set down her impressions of it. When a Boston relative who had noted the quality of her correspondence urged her to publish something, she submitted these recollections to a Boston publisher. Her writing career began with the publication of Cape Cod Folks (1881), followed by Towhead: The Story of a Girl (1883) and Some Other Folks (1884), a collection of stories.
Greene married a former Annapolis midshipman. The couple lived first near Chihuahua, Mexico, where Greene was involved in a silver mining operation; later they lived in the Washington Territory and in California. In 1890, when her husband died, Greene moved back to New England to write. Greene's literary career was based largely on the notoriety of her first novel, Cape Cod Folks. Essentially personal reminiscences of a community that had fascinated her, the book has for its plot a set of romantic involvements and is characterized by a perceptive rendering of local humor and by vivid depictions of Codder life and mores. Some of the accounts were a little too realistic, however, since Greene had described certain characters under their real names and a series of lawsuits ensued, some culminating in settlements against her. Nevertheless, published at a point when regionalism was all the rage, the novel went through 11 printings in its first two years and established Greene as a local-color writer.
Vesty of the Basins (1892), Greene's second most successful work, also employs the themes and techniques of Cape Cod Folks, but with greater sophistication. The tale concerns the beautiful Vesty, whose strength and good sense make her a quiet center of the isolated Basin community. Loved by three men, she marries one, the simple and devoted Gurd, to save another, the rich Notely, from his own folly. After Gurd has died trying to save Notely in a storm, and after Notely (married to another) dies as well, Vesty finally acknowledges the love of Major Henry. Henry, a lamed and scarred summer visitor to the Basin, narrates most of the action. His point of view effectively serves to reveal his silent love for Vesty and to provide a distanced commentary on the Basin lifestyle. When Greene introduces an omniscient narrator to delineate other relationships, however, the alternation of viewpoint is sometimes strained.
Several of Greene's characters are skillfully drawn. Vesty, for example, despite some idealization, is an appealing woman in her quiet strength. The Basin folk are distinguished by a broad—even slapstick—humor and by a somewhat self-conscious dialect. Nevertheless, the story is true to the complexity of emotion and catches the flavor of a rural New England community. In later novels, such as Lastchance Junction, Far, Far West (1889) and Leon Pontifex (1890), Greene tried the West as a setting, but she was always most attuned to the quirks and language of New England, and novels like Towhead and Flood-Tide (1901), despite faults of exaggeration, exhibit Greene's talent most effectively.
Greene's gift was for humor and the exact rendering of the manners of her New England country men and women. Her characters often verge on vivid caricature, a quality winning her the private praise of Mark Twain, and a skill by which she frequently captures the essence of her region.
Stuart and Bamboo (1897). The Moral Imbeciles (1898). Winslow Plain (1902). Deacon Lysander (1904). Power Lot (1906). The Long Green Road (1911). Everbreeze (1913).
Howe, J. W., Representative Women of New England (1904). Smith, H. N., and W. Gibson, eds., Mark Twain-Howells Letters (1960).
Boston Globe (30 Dec. 1935). Boston Transcript (30 Dec. 1935). Harper's (Nov. 1881). Harvard Graduates Magazine (June 1931). Nation (22 Sept. 1881, 14 July 1892). New Orleans Picayune (8 Jan. 1882, 4 June 1893).
—BARBARA C. EWELL